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NextImg:Drone hits Crimean ammunition depot as strikes kill, wound civilians and journalists in Ukraine

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) - A Ukrainian drone hit an ammunition depot in central Crimea on Saturday, sparking an explosion, less than a week after a predawn strike on a key bridge linking the peninsula to Russia prompted Moscow to exit a landmark grain export deal and pound Ukraine’s seaports with drones and missiles.

Sergey Aksyonov, the Kremlin-appointed head of the territory that Moscow illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014, said in a Telegram post that there were no immediate reports of casualties but that authorities were evacuating civilians within a five-kilometer (three-radius) of the blast site.

The Ukrainian military appeared to confirm it had launched the drone strike, claiming through its press service that it had destroyed an oil depot and Russian arms warehouses in the Krasnohvardiiske area, although without specifying what weapons were used.

A local news channel based in central Crimea on Saturday posted videos showing plumes of smoke looming above rooftops and fields near Oktyabrske, a small settlement next to an oil depot and a small military airport, as loud explosions rumbled in the background. In one of the videos, a man’s voice is heard saying that the smoke and blast noises appear to be coming from the direction of the airport.

The explosion in Krasnohvardiiske came less than a week after a Ukrainian strike Monday on the crucial Kerch bridge linking Crimea with Russia, which killed two people and left a section of the roadway hanging perilously.

Moscow on the same day ended its participation in a wartime deal that allowed Ukrainian grain to be exported through the Black Sea and later pounded Ukraine’s seaports with drones and missiles after vowing “retribution” for the attack on the bridge, a key supply route for Russian forces in Ukraine.

On Wednesday, a fire broke out within military training grounds in eastern Crimea that forced the evacuation of more than 2,000 people and the closure of a nearby highway, according to Aksyonov. Neither Moscow nor local Kremlin-appointed authorities gave reasons for the blaze, and Ukraine did not comment.

The Russian company operating the Kerch bridge announced on Saturday morning that it was temporarily halting all traffic across it, without giving reasons. Traffic was later allowed to resume crossing.

Ukraine previously successfully struck the bridge in October, when a truck bomb blew up two of its sections and required months of repair. Moscow decried that assault as an act of terrorism and retaliated by bombarding Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure, targeting the country’s power grid over the winter.

The Kerch Bridge is a conspicuous symbol of Moscow’s claims on Crimea and an essential land link to the peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014. The $3.6 billion bridge is the longest in Europe and is crucial for Russia’s military operations in southern Ukraine in the nearly 17-month-old war.

As fierce fighting continued in Ukraine’s bid to retake territory from Russia, Russian shelling killed at least two civilians and wounded four others on Saturday, Ukrainian officials reported. A 52-year-old woman died in Kupiansk, a town in the northeastern Kharkiv region, while another person was killed in a cross-border Russian attack on a village in the neighboring Sumy province.

Earlier in the day, Ukrainian officials reported that Russian attacks on 11 regions across the country on Friday and overnight had killed at least eight civilians and wounded others.

Meanwhile, the Russian defense ministry announced that a group of Russian journalists came under artillery fire in the southern Zaporizhzhia region. In an online statement, the ministry said that four correspondents for pro-Kremlin media were wounded, with one journalist from the state RIA agency later dying from his injuries.

The Kremlin-installed head of the occupied parts of the Zaporizhzhia region, Yevhen Balitsky, claimed in a Telegram post that the journalists were traveling in a civilian vehicle that was hit by shells.

The Ukrainian air force on Saturday morning said that it had overnight brought down 14 Russian drones, including five Iranian-made ones, over the country’s southeast, where battles are raging. In a regular social media update, the air force said that all Iranian-made Shahed exploding drones launched by Russian troops during the night were brought down, pointing to Ukraine’s increasing success rate in neutralizing them.

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